Fern Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator, a northern white man, recalls an unforgettable black woman named Fern whom he once met in Macon, Georgia. Everything about this young woman is defined by her captivating eyes, which link all of her to the Georgia soil and to universal human needs. “Her face flowed into her eyes.” Indeed, “like her face, the whole countryside seemed to flow into her eyes.”

Fern’s eyes tell men that she is easy. When she was young, a few men took her but got no joy from it. Afterward, they felt bound to her, obligated in ways that they could not explain. As Fern grew up, men kept bringing their bodies to her, but she only grew weary of them, turning them off. Nevertheless, they felt a need to return to do some fine thing for her. She did not deny them, but they nevertheless were somehow denied. She seemed somehow above men.

The narrator happened to pass Fern’s house one day while walking with a stranger. When he saw her sitting on her front porch, sad and listless, with her head leaning on a post, slightly tilted to avoid a protruding nail, he asked the stranger who she was. Because local people already regarded the narrator as stuck-up and nosy, her name was all the information he got, so he let the matter go. Nevertheless, he immediately felt bound to Fern.

One evening the narrator went out of his way to walk by Fern’s house and stopped to say hello. Her family was there, but they left quickly as if accustomed to giving...

(The entire section is 593 words.)